chief target in Monday's U.S. drone strike in the North Waziristan
tribal area of Pakistan -- the seventh U.S. drone attack in last two weeks
and the third in three days -- was al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya
al-Libi, who became the organization's second in command in the
aftermath of Osama bin-Laden's death and who had previously escaped
American custody in 2005 (NYT, ABC, AFP, AJE).
A number of yet to be confirmed reports indicate that al-Libi was
killed in the strike, in which an estimated 15 people died according to
Pakistani officials. Al-Libi, who has had a $1 million dollar bounty
placed on him under the U.S. Rewards for Justice program, would be one
of the highest-level al-Qaeda leaders killed since bin-Laden himself if his
death is confirmed, with one American official describing that scenario
as a "major blow to core of al-Qaeda" (BBC).
Two separate roadside bombs Tuesday morning in eastern Afghanistan killed 5 people, including 4 Afghan policemen. The attacks took place in Wardak and Ghazni provinces. (WaPo). Meanwhile, a British soldier killed in a rescue mission on Sunday in Afghanistan was named by the British Ministry of Defence yesterday. Private Gregg Thomas Stone, 20, from 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire regiment, was shot and killed Sunday in Helmland province after attempting to rescue Afghan policeman Abdul Walid with colleagues. He was the 417 British soldier killed since 2001 in operations in Afghanistan (Guardian).
NATO signs transit deal for Afghan withdrawal
On Monday, NATO signed a transit agreement with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan which would allow the countries to be used as overland routes for the removal of military vehicles and personnel as they begin to leave Afghanistan later this year. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rassmussen noted that "these agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need." (BBC, CNN). The move gives NATO and American forces a plan B from utilizing southern land supply routes that go through Pakistan, the use of which has been prohibited for the last six months in the aftermath of the accidental U.S. military strike which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.
While discussions between the U.S. and Pakistan remain ongoing over the reopening of that route, progress has been limited and as recently as last week (in an interview published Monday on Foreign Policy) Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that a U.S. apology over the November incident must be a prerequisite for any agreement over supply routes (Dawn).
Elsewhere in Pakistan, at least one and as many as four Pakistani Frontier Corps members were killed in an attack by militants on a post in Salala on the Pakistani-Afghan border (Dawn, ET). Retaliatory firing by security personnel was alleged to have killed a number of militants, but no official corroboration of the incident has been provided.
SecDef to India for talks
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in India today for talks with
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Advisor Shiv
Shankar Menon. The visit, which will include at least one further
meeting with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony and a speech outlining
the U.S-Indian partnership, is part of an effort to encourage India's
more active participation in Afghanistan, which has thus far been
limited to some development and local reconstruction efforts (WSJ, WaPo).
Meanwhile, Pakistan on Monday successfully tested an Hatf VII cruise missile, the 5th such test since April of a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads after India's own April test of an Agni V nuclear-capable missile (ET).
Looking for greener pastures
In his message on World Environment Day today, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is calling for an uptick in planting trees in the country and a commitment to work with the international community to solve pressing global environmental problems. His desire is to see Pakistan's forest cover increase by 2015 under the terms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (Pakistan Observer).